United States v. Garcia

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 07-19-2013
  • Case #: 11-30348
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Fisher and Senior District Judge Quist
  • Full Text Opinion

A jury instruction for involuntary manslaughter is improper where it fails to require the jury to find that the defendant acted with gross negligence and that omission is harmful to the defendant.

Rudy Garcia mortally wounded his friend David McCraigie with a hunting rifle at point-blank range after they got into a fight during a party at McCraigie’s house. At trial, there were drastically different versions of the story presented by the prosecution and the defense, with the defense relying on a theory of self-defense. Some of the defense’s evidence was excluded, including testimony from Garcia and Garcia’s girlfriend as to prior violent acts of McCraigie, as well as pictures on a social networking site of McCraigie holding a sawed-off shotgun, when friends of his were testifying that they had never seen him with a gun. After Garcia was tried for first-degree murder, the jury was given instructions for first and second degree murder as well as those for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, though the instruction for this conviction lacked the element of gross negligence, defined as “wanton or reckless disregard for human life.” The Ninth Circuit held that the instruction as given allowed the jury to convict Garcia only on a finding that he acted “in an unlawful manner” and that the act “might produce death,” and since this did not require a finding of the essential element of gross negligence the instruction was improper. Addressing the evidentiary issues without deciding, the panel went on to state that the testimony as to McCraigie’s prior acts should have been admissible as relevant to Garcia’s state of mind at the time of the shooting, and that the photographs of McCraigie with the shotgun should have been admitted as evidence to impeach prosecution witnesses who said that they had never seen McCraigie with a firearm. REVERSED.

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